Surrounded by love, Grace Lee Boggs died in her Detroit home this week. A scholar-activist, Grace turned 100 just this past summer and gave her life to human liberation. As an activist deeply rooted in U.S. social movements, she was a spiritual teacher for me and many others working in the “rust-belt” cities of Pittsburgh and Detroit. As a “prophet that helps us see, ” she dared interrogate dominant progressive social change paradigms by insisting that worn out strategies and tactics be discarded. We had to learn how to become more creative and less reactive and see that revolution is transformation of ourselves.
In The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, she reveals the story of her evolution as a human being. And how she came to know the spirituality of social change embodied by Dr. King and disciples, to be a way forward for today’s agents of transformation. A radical to the core of her being, she often surprised progressive media pundits by explaining why sticking to race, class, and gender categories keep us stuck in worn out narratives from the past.
As Grace lived and preached it, “the purpose of revolution is to begin anew, not to prove the correctness of ideas.”
In a White House press release earlier this week, President Obama publicized the contributions of The Boggs Center for Nurturing Community to past and future generations of organizers not only in Detroit, but across the globe. People like myself, for instance.
I was in a coalition meeting in Detroit in 1995 when Grace stood up and quoted Leo Tolstoy, ” Everybody wants to change the world, but nobody wants to change themselves. ” As one of three lead organizers for the Pittsburgh Living Wage Campaign, those words profoundly changed our strategy and tactics. Grounded in the lived experience and wisdom of elders like Grace, of those who came before us, our progressive alliance focused first on community building before mobilization. Thanks to Grace, our religious/labor coalition and the Pittsburgh City Council co-created a civilian police review board in Pittsburgh and passed one of the first living wage ordinances in the country.
Instead of Netflix and in honor of a beautiful human being, pop some corn and watch a revolutionary 90 minute Point of View (POV) documentary about Grace Lee Boggs. Streaming for free now through Nov 4, American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs is not to be missed!